Northern Ireland news

Nichola Mallon defends building border infrastructure at ports

Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon said the Northern Ireland Protocol needed to be implemented. Picture by Peter Morrison/PA Wire
Michael McHugh, PA

A Stormont minister has defended the building of border infrastructure at Northern Ireland's ports.

Nichola Mallon said the Northern Ireland Protocol needed to be implemented.

The infrastructure minister told the assembly: "This is a legal requirement on the members of the Executive.

"It is imperative that the protocol is implemented."

She said her party, the SDLP, had proposed an extension to the grace periods.

The periods of light-touch regulation of some goods transiting from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland are due to end later this year.

Business owners and the British government have called for their extension.

Ms Mallon said they also needed to find "pragmatic" solutions to difficulties which hauliers have experienced around extra paperwork.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs represents East Antrim, which includes Larne Harbour.

He said if an agreement separate from the protocol concerning the movement of animal-based products from Britain to Northern Ireland was reached that would make the infrastructure being built at Larne unnecessary.

Permanent facilities are due to be built at Belfast, Larne, Warrenpoint and Foyle ports.

Physical construction has not begun at any of the sites, with work currently still in the design and preparatory phases.

The DUP and other unionist parties are pushing for the protocol to be ditched, claiming it has driven an economic wedge between the north and Britain, undermining the union as a consequence.

The DUP's Agriculture Minister, Gordon Lyons, has halted work on permanent inspection posts.

His announcement late on Friday afternoon represented the DUP's latest bid to undermine the protocol, which governs Irish Sea trade between Britain and Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

As well as ordering officials to halt work on planned permanent inspection facilities for regulatory checks on agri-food goods arriving from GB, he also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff and said charges would not be levied at the ports on traders bringing goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Irish Sea trade checks required under the terms of the protocol are currently taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities.

Those temporary entry points will continue to operate.

Mr Lyons's decision relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities.

His Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has been fulfilling the British government's legal duty to construct the facilities under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Last year the minister's predecessor and DUP colleague Edwin Poots also explored the potential of ordering a stop to construction but stepped back from that position following legal advice.

Mr Poots instead distanced himself from the work and his senior officials took on responsibility for fulfilling the protocol obligations.

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